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Sue Gray accused of not co-operating with inquiry over Labour role

Sue Gray (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Sue Gray (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

The Cabinet Office has accused partygate investigator Sue Gray of declining to speak to the inquiry into her discussions with Labour about a senior party role.

Ms Gray, who led a Government investigation into allegations of parties being held in Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown, “chose not to” make representations as part of the process, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, he said that under Civil Service guidance, any contact between senior civil servants and leading members of opposition parties should be cleared by ministers.

Ms Gray was given the opportunity to make representations as part of this process but chose not to do so

Oliver Dowden

But he did not say whether the Cabinet Office deemed her to have broken rules, as had been suggested by several reports.

The internal investigation into her switch from her high-ranking Whitehall position to a planned move to become Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff has been paused “whilst we consider next steps”, Mr Dowden wrote.

The Cabinet Office has made submissions to the anti-corruption watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which will “consider evidence from a range of sources to make a recommendation on any appropriate restrictions on the appointment”, Mr Dowden wrote.

Acoba can set recommendations for when senior people leave government, including calling for a cooling-off period to avoid any conflict of interest.

Mr Dowden said the Cabinet Office process “involved interviewing relevant persons” to establish “further details” on any contact between Ms Gray and Sir Keir.

“I can update the House that Ms Gray was given the opportunity to make representations as part of this process but chose not to do so,” he said.

“In order to maintain confidentiality towards an individual former employee, I am unable at this stage to provide further information relating to the departure of Ms Gray whilst we consider next steps.”

The Civil Service Code says officials of Ms Gray’s seniority must wait a minimum of three months before taking up outside employment.

But Acoba could recommend a longer wait, with a maximum delay of up to two years.

The committee does not have the power to block an appointment.

Labour has pledged to abide by any Acoba recommendation in relation to the hiring of Ms Gray.

In his “update into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant”, Mr Dowden said: “The decision on any recommended restrictions on the appointment is for Acoba.”

Earlier, Sir Keir said he was “confident” Ms Gray had not broken any rules.

The Labour leader said he “had no discussions with her while she was investigating Boris Johnson whatsoever, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that’s the case”.

He accused the Government of “trying to resurrect a story about Sue Gray” because they “don’t want to talk about the cost-of-living crisis” before the local elections.